Nick Smith has announced:
The application by Riverstone Holdings Limited to build and operate a $240 million monorail in Fiordland has been declined by Conservation Minister Dr Nick Smith.
“This proposal does not stand up either economically or environmentally. The independent tourism and financial analysis concluded it was not viable. There would be a significant impact on the area’s flora, fauna and natural heritage. The route is not sufficiently defined to properly assess the impacts,” Dr Smith says.
“Developments in an area with World Heritage status and which impact on the Fiordland National Park must meet the highest of standards and I have concluded that the risks of this proposal are too great.”
The Fiordland Link Experience proposed a new link between Queenstown and Milford Sound consisting of a 20-kilometre boat excursion across Lake Wakatipu to Mt Nicholas Station, a 45-kilometre all-terrain vehicle ride to Kiwi Burn, a 43.8-kilometre monorail ride to Te Anau Downs and a 90-kilometre coach journey to Milford Sound. The application included a lease, licence and concession for the monorail and related infrastructure through the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area including the Snowdon Forest and Fiordland National Park.
I think this is an incredibly disappointing decision. The monorail proposal would have provided a hugely enhanced visitor experience to tourists, and been a real boost to jobs and tourism. It did not go through Fiordland National Park, but merely neighbouring basic conservation land.
It wasn’t just going to be a monorail, but also have a mountain bike trail next to it (using the construction track), plus a catmaran link. Could you imagine a cool 40 km mountain bike trail into Te Anau Downs? Stunning.
I regard the reference to economic considerations to be a red herring. The job of the Conservation Minister should be to assess the environmental impact, not the business case. All that one needs to do is to have a condition that if the project fails, then there are sufficient funds held in trust to remove the infrastructure.
So that leaves the environmental considerations. Well two independent DOC officers (and DOC is hardly a hotbed of pro-development staffers) recommended that the consent be granted as the environmental impact was relatively minor (my words). So we have the Minister going more green than his own department. It’s what I’d expect from a Labour/Green Government – not National.
Incidentally my company Curia did a very small poll for the developer on public attitudes towards the proposal. The cost was tiny, and is not a factor in my views.
I don’t mind Governments being pragmatic, so long as their decisions still move New Zealand in the right direction. I don’t think this decision moves NZ in the right direction. I think it is a kick in the face for tourism and jobs. It will deter other operators from trying to get permission to do developments that boost tourism, if they think that their proposal won’t succeed regardless of the merits.